Major Taiwan firms embroiled in food scares

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Renowned food manufacturers were forced yesterday to pull from the market many of their bestselling items after it was learned that the products contained tainted agar powder, tapioca powder and preservatives.

Agar powder and tapioca powder with chemical additives were sold to A.G.V. Products and Uni-President, who unknowingly pushed the ingredients further down the production line to customers throughout Taiwan, according to the Tainan District Prosecutors Office (TDPO), which conducted an investigation that uncovered a notable amount of tainted ingredients yesterday.

This news comes amid another food scare involving maleic acid-tainted starch.

In a police-aided investigation of Tainan food ingredient bigwig Rico Industrial Corporation, the TDPO discovered 38 sacks of EDTA-2Na - a chemical sometimes used as an antiseptic - seven cases of long-expired LBGBCR21 - otherwise known as locust bean gum - and 43 cases of expired ready-made food preservatives.

The factory owner, surnamed Tsai, and 14 employees were summoned to the local prosecutors office, with Tsai being detained after prosecutors deemed his involvement suspicious.

The prosecutors office pointed out that Rico had started purchasing industry-grade EDTA-2Na in 2008 at a relatively cheap wholesale price at time when edible-grade EDTA-2Na being three to four times the price.

The chemicals were then mixed into food ingredients and shipped off to A.G.V. and Uni-President under the false labels of "agar powder" and "tapioca powder," before being made into tofu pudding and jelly snacks.

Trademark Products Suspended from Selling

Uni-President pulled from the shelves seven of its products, including its trademark pudding, "Polar Delight" chocolate ice cream, Ruei-suey Eggroll ice cream and Cold Stone's Choco L'Amour and Mocha Macaron ice cream.

The latter two are produced by Taiwan manufacturers under the American company's authorisation.

Elate Pudding, after being notified by the TDPO that Rico had sold them expired locust bean gum and food preservatives, stopped the sale of its puddings and flans yesterday.

Manufacturer Clarifies Issue After the prosecutors' investigation, the Uni-President Group announced that it had only purchased carrageenan from Rico, a type of sea algae extract that can be used as a thickening additive for foods.

The carrageenan was excluded from the tabbed ingredients, making the company's products relatively safe for customers, said Uni-President, but it will be recalling seven types of snacks to allay the fears of customers.

Both A.G.V. and Elate suspended the sale of their "suspected" products and notified customers that they were offering refunds in the wake of the TDPO's investigation.

Elate is taking further measures by asking Rico for compensation, said Fang Ku-pai, the president of Kwang Dai Food Company, the parent company of Elate.

According to the TDPO, Rico purchased as much as 40 tons of industry-grade EDTA-2Na over the last six years.

Taipei Cities Take Action Against Food Scare

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) destroyed almost 10 tons of confiscated tainted starch in an incinerator in Taipei yesterday.

The 41,884 sacks of starch were produced by food manufacturer Sunright Company (日正). The department will enlist the help of two other public incinerators in Neihu and Beitou in the future, said the DEP.

Sticky rice cakes were listed as the latest food items suspected of containing tainted starch, the Department of Health (DOH) announced on Thursday, leading to the confiscation of rice cakes produced by the Kuang Yuan Hsing Company yesterday.

The DOH seized all products currently stored in the company's factory and ordered retailers, including supermarkets Pxmart, Wellcome and Matsusei, to pull suspected rice cakes from their shelves.

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